Overnight Energy: EPA finalizes rollback of Obama-era oil and gas methane emissions standards | Democratic lawmakers ask Interior to require masks indoors at national parks | Harris climate agenda stresses need for justice

Overnight Energy: EPA finalizes rollback of Obama-era oil and gas methane emissions standards | Democratic lawmakers ask Interior to require masks indoors at national parks | Harris climate agenda stresses need for justice
© Getty

HAPPY THURSDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter.



Accessible, affordable and reliable energy powers homes, businesses, and the economy. As we look to the future, what energy sources can be relied upon to close the gap nationally and globally? On the sidelines of the 2020 Democratic Convention, The Hill will host a discussion with policymakers and energy experts to explore what can be done to ensure reliable, affordable access to energy while limiting the impact on the environment. RSVP today to save your spot.


-Methane or complain… The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday finalized rescinded standards for methane emissions in the oil and gas industry and foreshadowed similar actions for other pollutants.

The two finalized rules rescind standards that specifically regulate methane emissions from oil and gas production, processing, transmission and storage.

The agency rules also set the stage for rollbacks to other pollutants by arguing that the EPA under former President Obama did not sufficiently define what constitutes a “significant” contribution to climate change under the Clean Air Act.

The EPA intends to put forth another rule with a definition for "significant," with the methane rule stating that it could apply its new criteria in future decisions.

The agency argued in the rule that the standards it rescinded were redundant, overlapping substantially with other regulations regarding volatile organic compounds (VOCs).


However, in specifically regulating methane from this sector in 2016, the Obama administration determined that while standards for VOCs also “incidentally” reduce methane emissions, a methane-specific standard would “achieve meaningful [greenhouse gas] GHG reductions and will be an important step towards mitigating the impact of GHG emissions on climate change.”

The EPA estimated that the two new rules it put forward would have combined net benefits worth $750 million to $850 million dollars from 2021 to 2030.

Over the same period, the rules would increase methane emissions by 400,000 tons and 450,000 tons each, according to the agency.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is 25 times more impactful than carbon dioxide in equal quantities, according to the EPA.

The greenhouse gas is leaked into the atmosphere during the production, transportation and storage of oil and gas. Natural gas and petroleum systems are the second-largest source of methane emissions in the country, behind only agriculture.

The administration touted the changes as a move to reduce regulatory burdens on industry, particularly small producers, while critics argued that they would exacerbate climate change.

“Regulatory burdens put into place by the Obama-Biden Administration fell heavily on small and medium-sized energy businesses," EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Trump officials finalize plan to open up protected areas of Tongass to logging | Feds say offshore testing for oil can proceed despite drilling moratorium | Dems question EPA's postponement of inequality training Democrats question EPA postponement of environmental inequality training OVERNIGHT ENERGY: California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 | EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities | House energy package sparks criticism from left and right MORE said in a statement. "Today’s regulatory changes remove redundant paperwork, align with the Clean Air Act, and allow companies the flexibility to satisfy leak-control requirements by complying with equivalent state rules."

Even before it was officially announced, the changes were already drawing ire from congressional opponents.

Sen. Angus KingAngus KingHopes for DC, Puerto Rico statehood rise Government watchdog recommends creation of White House cyber director position Democrats step up hardball tactics as Supreme Court fight heats up MORE (I-Maine) called rolling back methane regulations “the single worst thing that could be done to attack the climate” in an interview ahead of the rule’s release.

“This is a serious national security concern and it’s a serious concern for the future of this country. I just hope these people have to face their grandchildren and explain to them why they took this step,” he said.

Read more on the rollback here


-Democratic lawmakers are suggesting going pretty much the opposite direction… Sens. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenCongress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate Mid-Atlantic states sue EPA over Chesapeake Bay pollution MORE (D-Md.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyA game theorist's advice to President Trump on filling the Supreme Court seat Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing MORE (D-Mass.) unveiled a bill Thursday that aims to hold natural gas producers liable for major leaks.

The legislation would create financial penalties for an uncontrolled leak, known as a blowout, based on the volume of gas, including flared gas, that is released. It would also mandate that companies report blowouts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within 72 hours and establish a blowout database. 

“Our legislation holds polluters accountable for large-scale natural gas methane emissions by penalizing those who don’t take measures to prevent them. It’s simple: polluters should pay for the harm they cause,” Van Hollen said in a statement. 

Read more on the tougher methane regs here

Join The Hill at our virtual 2020 Conventions Hub — your digital headquarters for exciting events and the latest conventions news. We'll kick off each day with The Big Questions. Party leaders, pollsters and campaign veterans join our editors to discuss the political and policy issues shaping our nation. Stay tuned in for our afternoon briefings — deeper dives into the key policy areas that will shape the 2020 campaign including energy, affordable housing, and the ongoing response to COVID-19. Check out the full schedule and RSVP now to hold your spot! 

-And then there was the expansion of drilling territory… The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took its first steps to opening vast stretches of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA).

A final environmental impact statement all but greenlights the Willow Project, a move opposed by environmentalists because of its proximity to the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, which is currently protected and is home to a variety of animals like caribou and migratory birds. 

“This development will involve roads, an airstrip, and a central processing facility, many well pads and drilling sites and will be establishing a new center for future developments in that area,” Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director at Defenders of Wildlife, told The Hill.

“The oil industry moves in kind of a spider web fashion that keeps connecting development to roads to pipelines to new development.”


The concern from environmentalists is that the Trump administration tip the scales that require BLM to balance development and preservation within the area.

In June, the administration announced it would seek to open more than 80 percent of the NPRA to drilling. 

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election Supreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink Democratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' MORE (R-Alaska), however, called the Willow Project an important part of the state’s economic future.

"As Alaskans work to rebuild our economy, it’s essential for significant projects to make steady progress through the permitting process,” she said in a release. “Willow could generate hundreds of jobs, substantial revenues, and more than 100,000 barrels of needed throughput per day for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.


MASK, MASK, MASK IT UP: House Democrats are pushing the National Park Service (NPS) to require masks as visits to America’s parks surge amid the pandemic.

“We now understand that the Department of the Interior (DOI) is not requiring masks or social distancing at indoor facilities operated by the National Park Service (NPS), even at units located where the surrounding state or local government has instituted a mandatory mask requirement,” lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee, including Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.


Though national parks are major economic drivers for their surrounding areas, early in the pandemic some park employees and community groups asked NPS to close parks, including the Grand Canyon, rather than risk furthering the spread of the virus. 

Though cries for closure have simmered down as the pandemic enters its sixth month in the U.S., groups for park employees say they are still concerned for the health of workers and visitors, particularly in parks’ indoor areas.

“The leadership at Interior isn’t being proactive enough to keep staff and visitors safe,” the National Parks Conservation Association wrote in a release.

Read more on that here


LET ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE BE SERVED: Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisPelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act What Kamala Harris' VP nomination means to us Harris slams Trump's Supreme Court pick as an attempt to 'destroy the Affordable Care Act' MORE (D-Calif.) made waves during the campaign not with the specifics of her climate plan, but rather with her focus on rectifying environmental wrongs often centered in vulnerable communities.

Harris, now presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Joe Biden should enact critical government reforms if he wins MORE’s running mate, rejoins the race as a national reckoning on racial inequality has heightened the focus on the poor and minority communities that so frequently lie in the shadow of the nation’s polluting industries.

Some of Harris’s earliest climate plans — and her most recent legislation — demonstrate an interest in protecting those communities both from the impact of climate change and being overburdened with a disproportionate share of pollution.

“The environment we live in cannot be disentangled from the rest of our lives, and it is more important than ever that we work toward a more just and equitable future,” Harris said in a release last week during the official introduction of the Climate Equity Act, sponsored alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezWill Democrats attempt to pack the Supreme Court again? On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline McCarthy says there will be a peaceful transition if Biden wins MORE (D-N.Y.) and marketed as one of the three pillars of the Green New Deal.

“As we combat the climate crisis and build a clean economy; we must put justice and equity first.”

Read more on Harris’s climate credentials here



That time Kamala Harris sued Obama-Biden over fracking, E&E News reports

Warren knocks SEC on climate disclosures, Politico reports

State Supreme Court rejects South Dakota bid to recover millions from oil giant BP, The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports

Florida advocacy group says environmental law hurts its chance to save nature, The Tampa Bay Times reports


ICYMI: Stories from Thursday…

Harris climate agenda stresses need for justice

Democrats unveil bill to penalize gas producers for blowouts ahead of expected Trump methane rollback

Democratic lawmakers ask Interior to require masks indoors at national parks

Facebook under fire over drilling equipment on the seafloor off the Oregon coast: report

EPA finalizes rollback of Obama-era oil and gas methane emissions standards